A newspaper report from 1819 talks of mangoes, among other fruits, being cultivated by Torres Strait Islanders on Murray Island. Since the mango had been known in India and south-east Asia for 4000 years, it may well have been grown in the islands for centuries before the first specimens were imported to mainland Australia.
The mango is indigenous to the area that now includes northeast India, Myanmar and Bangladesh, where fossil evidence has shown it was growing up to 30 million years ago. Voyagers over the ages distributed the plants widely including to the Phillipines, South America and West Africa.
The first plants to reach colonial Australia may have been those given by a Royal Navy officer, Captain Curry, to the Sydney Botanic Gardens in 1823. The trees flourished, but failed to produce fruit in the local climate. The following year, some migrated to Humpybong (now Redcliffe) in Queensland along with convicts and military personnel establishing the new penal settlement of Moreton Bay.
Initially, it appears mangoes were grown mainly in home gardens, rather than commercially. By the 1860s, however, the mango was regarded by the Queensland Acclimatisation Society as a potential crop and there was increased interest in importing a range of varieties. In 1870 it Walter Hill described the varieties he had cultivated in the Botanic Gardens in a newspaper report.
He wrote of the mango:
The plant as a rule is most hardy and vigorous, and, although a native of the tropics, possesses a remarkable constitution which appears to adapt it to far lower latitudes, I doubt not that it would flourish well in some districts of the Darling Downs, and that as its cultivation extends in course of time, it will be as familiar to the colonists as many plants which are indigenous to Queensland, while other more sensitive exotics sicken and die, unless very carefully nurtured. The mango, having once fairly taken root, shifts for itself, and comes to as much perfection as in its native soil.
By the late 1870s nurserymen were cultivating mango trees and offering them for sale. During the following decade, a distinctively Australian variety was developed. Named the Kensington or Kensington Pride, after the property on which it was first produced, this variety for many years accounted for most of the commercial crop in Australia. It was otherwise known as the Bowen or Bowen Special.
The variety is thought to have descended from a specimen given to the Bowen Harbour and Customs Officer, GF Sandrock, who planted the seeds on his property. After a process of selection by growers, it was brought to perfection by a Mr Harry Lot and was soon being grown throughout the Bowen area. Sandrock attempted to ship mangoes to England in 1893 but was unsuccessful as the fruit rotted en route.
In Australia mangoes are now grown in the tropical and sub-tropical regions of the Northern Territory, Queensland, New South Wales and Western Australia. Several other varieties beside the Kensington are grown